The Key to Being an Original

How to Be an Original

Innovation and creativity is the driver of American small business. We are always looking for ways to do things better. We want to create a better product, find a more efficient way to operate a business, discover new ways to reach people, and so on.

We have to stand out from our competitors. We can’t just do the same thing in the same way as everybody else, or why would anyone come to do business with us? We have to be original.

Adam Grant is one of the great business thinkers in the world. I loved his last book, Give and Take, and recently had a chance to read his newest book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. It’s all about where creativity comes from, the characteristics of the most creative people, and what we can do to be more original and innovative.

I’ll have more to say about some of his specific ideas in the future, but here are a few of the points he made that interested me:

  1. Great innovators don’t have to be child prodigies. The mindset and skillset that enables child prodigies to master disciplines at a young age is different from what you need to create something new. Innovation requires being able to do something unique and make something new, not just perfect other people’s rules.
  2. Originals aren’t extreme risk-takers. The most innovative people have fears and doubts just like everybody else. They balance their “risk portfolio” not by taking a lot of moderate risks but by taking big risks in one area and then being extremely careful in other areas.
  3. It’s tough to figure out which ideas will be successful in advance. Many people initially overlook ideas that go on to be big successes, while ideas everyone loves often fail. The most creative, innovative, original people don’t bet everything on one idea and obsess over it, but come up with a lot more ideas, which has a higher chance of eventually coming up with a success.
  4. There are two different kinds of innovators. Conceptual innovators come up with their biggest, best ideas early on, when they bring a fresh perspective to a problem, and often lose their originality over time once that initial burst of insight is applied. Experimental innovators may take years or decades to develop the knowledge and skills they need to come up with new ideas, but once they do they often come up with more and more new ideas over the long run.

There’s a lot more to gain from this book, and I’d encourage you all to read it. Be innovative. Be creative. Be an original!

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Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as,, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.